EAST LANSING, Mich. — The script was roughly the same, although one of the central figures was a bit different, and some new characters took the scoring stage for the first time.
Defending NCAA champion Michigan State completed a home sweep of Mercyhurst on Saturday night, winning 6-2 in a game that resembled Friday’s first-ever matchup between the schools. The Spartans went with a different goaltender tonight as sophomore Bobby Jarosz got his first start of the season in relief of junior Jeff Lerg, but the result was pretty much the same all the way around: MSU dominance, with four different Spartans getting their first goals of the season.
With the non-conference win, Michigan State improved their record to 8-1-0 overall, while the Lakers fell to 1-8-1.
“The positive for us is we got some kids on the board scoring-wise that had not scored,” said MSU coach Rick Comley. “Hopefully, that relaxes them a little bit. You’ve got to have a couple of games where you do score goals; everyone relaxes and feels better about themselves.”
The first period looked like a repeat of Friday night’s contest. The Spartans took control of this game early, scoring two goals in 14 seconds in the first period, giving them a 2-0 lead. On the first goal, senior wing Chris Mueller scored his first goal of the year on a deflection of junior wing Tim Kennedy’s shot from the high zone.
Seconds later, from almost the same spot as Kennedy’s shot, junior wing Tim Crowder also got his first goal as he aimed lasered a shot high in the net, beating freshman goaltender Ryan Zapolski.
“There was a little friendly bet who was going to score first, and I beat him (Crowder) by about 15 seconds,” Mueller joked. “I hold the upper hand this year, for 15 seconds.”
“Sometimes we just let teams come in here and just walk over us at times,” he added. “It’s a sign of maturity as a team, and we have to get the job done whoever we’re playing. We want to keep progressing throughout the year.”
Mercyhurst fought their way back into the game with a 5-on-3 goal midway through first period. Sophomore wing Nick Vandenbeld managed to get a bouncing puck past MSU sophomore goaltender Bobby Jarosz to cut the lead in half.
“We knew it was going to be a real test for us, both physically and mentally, and it clearly was,” said Mercyhurst Coach Rick Gotkin. “I don’t think too many people are shocked that Michigan State is better. We’re hoping that somehow this is going to help us improve down the road.”
Overall, the Spartans dominated the first period action, outshooting Mercyhurst 19-8. The lead could have been bigger, but Zapolski absolutely stoned MSU junior center Justin Abdelkader on a 2-on-1 scoring chance with 10 seconds left in the period to keep his Lakers very much in the game.
“We all, to a man, felt like we had a tiger by the tail,” said Gotkin. “We’re kind of in survival mode, just trying to get into the third period and be close. Obviously, Michigan State didn’t let us do that. We felt we battled pretty good in the first period.”
In the second period, everything from Friday night’s script changed.
MSU killed a second-period Mercyhurst power play before gaining their own 5-on-3 advantage and scoring easily at 6:42 to start the onslaught. Kennedy got his team-leading ninth goal on assists from Mueller and senior defenseman Daniel Vukovic.
“We’ve got some talented kids, and when you have some talent, we should have a good power play,” Comley said. “I think our power play can win games for us. I just wanted to get the lead, keep the lead, and I wasn’t worried about how many goals we won by or anything like that.”
After that, the game devolved into a penalty festival, with each team taking penalties to cancel out power plays. The Spartans finally had their own 5-on-3 opportunity midway through the period, but they could not make the Mercyhurst mistakes pay off yet.
Down only 3-1, Mercyhurst had to feel like they were still in the game.
“It’s tough to kill penalties against anybody,” Gotkin said. “It’s ‘quadrupley’ tough to kill penalties against Michigan State, let alone a 5-on-3 for almost two minutes.”
However, with just under four minutes left in the period, freshman defenseman A.J. Sturges, a scratch in Friday night’s game, scored MSU’s fourth goal, with assists from Crowder and senior center Bryan Lerg. Sturges’ first goal of the season really got the team rolling, and they scored again with 2:20 left in the second period on a power play. Freshman defenseman Jeff Petry also netted his first puck of the season with assists from assistant captains Kennedy and Mueller.
Suddenly, it was 5-1 Michigan State, and the game was effectively over. Overall, the second period was not kind to the Lakers, as MSU tallied 24 shots on goal and broke the contest open with these three goals.
“In the second period, the goals came quick,” Gotkin said. “Not real fancy stuff, just good, hard-working goals by them. I’m sure that’s how they win lots of games. Goals are momentum: they get ‘em, and you can see us get a little on our heels. It was a little bit tough to stop the bleeding.”
Mercyhurst will travel for a road series at the Rochester Institute of Technology next weekend.
“We have to heal, and we have to get a bunch of guys back in our lineup,” said Gotkin. “RIT isn’t Michigan State, but they’re pretty good. We’re going to have to play well in a tough rink to be successful.”
As for Michigan State, they host a home series on Thursday and Friday against No. 1 Miami. Even though the RedHawks lost on Friday night to Notre Dame and will probably drop in the rankings, it still will be a highly-charged CCHA matchup for both teams.
“You got to put Ws on the board, and that’s what we did,” Comley said. “Now we have a short week of practice, and that’s okay. It should be a great weekend. We haven’t scored much coming in. We’ve had some decent shots, but I wouldn’t judge it as we’re all of a sudden a six-goal-a-game team now, by any means. Next week it’ll go right back to league-type hockey: tough and hard to score.”
“Miami’s an outstanding team,” he added. “It should be a great series.”